Oh, that Georgetown ambiance! Spreading down from M Street toward the waterfront, it has even wafted into that onetime bastion of cuisine naive, the Yes! Natural Food Shop, now part of a minicorporation (see the bookstore around the corner on 31st Street NW).
Rechristened the Natural Gourmet, and looking like a cross between a communal co-op and a specialty grocery, Yes! seems to be catering to fewer Savvies (Serious, Adamant Vegetarians) and more Hiccups -- Health-Minded Intellectuals Cultivating Consciously Upward Profiles. Which is to say, picnicking out of the Yes! refrigerator cases may be nonadditive, but it subtracts a little more from the wallet than it used to. (Thus, their nonplastic food philosophy has a bent for plastic money.)
Still, there is a secret satisfaction to wallowing in avocado, and the mashed spread at Yes! is ripe to the point of silkiness. And the Yes! chefs don't scrape it on with a knife, they spatulate it on. Or in, as the case may be: Exterior choices are usually a coarse-grain bread or unopened whole wheat pita, which is easier on the clothes.
The tuna spread is generous, though unremarkable. Cheese choices vary, one of the nicest recent options being dill havarti; tomato slices are mysteriously flavorful in a town where even good kitchens slap down mealy imitations. And the alfalfa sprouts are dry and crisp, another relief from the damp and musty smelling sprouts wimping around local salad bars.
To be honest, such concoctions can be bland; a squeeze of lemon in the avocado or a dash of curry powder in the mayonnaise would be nice, but if you're carrying out, you can always compensate later. (Note that although the deli counter itself closes at 5:30, they make up extra sandwiches and leave them in the coolers for latecomers.)
Tofu here is definitely upscale: It comes in two flavors (call them szechuan and sesame) as well as classic, appears as sandwich makings, frozen dessert or smoothie mix with fruits and ice. The humous smells roasty and the quiche is thick and the custard nicely set. The spinach pie, whole wheat pita wedges stuffed with spinach, onions and allspice, makes a fair pitch, especially warmed, but falls short.
There also are cold salads such as seafood pasta and pasta primavera -- a little different mix here, its small rotelli in a mayonnaise sauce tossed with green beans, bell peppers, tomato, corn kernels and peas. It's pretty good, although the dominance of bell pepper flavor is reminiscent of "garden-style" cottage cheese.
Instead of ordering a sandwich, you can mix these cold salads with hunks of cheese and bran muffins, for example; the minigreengrocer counter alongside is usually stocked with vegetables in their completely natural state, if you prefer to crunch a bunch. Try buying peppery watercress or parsley and slipping it onto an avocado-and-cheese for added punch.
Or step over to the bins and weigh out raisins or coconut or seeds and stir them into a pasta salad. The more you mix and match, the more gourmet this little grocery gets.